January 27, 2012

Air Potato Vine: A Threat to Florida's Native Plants

Photo by Forest and Kim Starr

Last week, we attended the Annual Potato Roundup at Gemini Springs. We first were given a lesson about non-native, invasive plants and specifically the Air Potato Vine.. The Air Potato (Dioscorea bulbifera) is a perennial vine. Bulbs are produced on the vine itself and tubers grow beneath the ground giving this plant two means for surviving and reproducing. A part of the yam family, this vine can grow as much as 8 inches per day reaching heights of 60-150 ft.

It is considered a noxious weed in Florida. It is a quick-growing, large-leafed vine that spreads and overtakes other native plants. The bulbs themselves fall to the ground sprouting more vines which wind and twist with each other forming a thick mat. Cutting the plant down does not help the problem as the tubers can survive for extended periods of time and send up more shoots later. This is a tenacious plant and the battle against it is difficult to win.

Pulling potatoes off the vine.

This plant is problematic all over Florida but Central Florida seems to have an extra-special battle with it. A drive down any wooded area will reveal the extent of the problem. Entire wooded areas which have been overtaken in some areas.

One effort is to hold annual potato roundups at parks which are having a problem with the plant. Another is to use these opportunities to teach the community about the plant so that they can rid their own yards of them. (I found two in the woods behind my house a few days after this trip. The children and I picked up every potato we could find and pulled all the vines down. We threw the vines into our fire pit and burned them immediately.)
Air Potato

So everyone get out into your yards and gardens. Look for these potatoes and if you see them, bag them up and throw them out! Better to catch them now than to have your Azaleas succumb to them later!


  1. What a great idea!  We saw some while running the nature trail last week. Now we will go back and pick them up. What a great local nature study idea!

  2. Exactly! Environmental and conservation activities make for great homeschool field trips!!!


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